What Public Managers Want

Readers of the B&G Report tell the top two qualities they're looking for in an employee.
May 21, 2009 AT 3:00 AM
Barrett and Greene
By Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene  |  Columnists
Government management experts. Their website is greenebarrett.com.

A month ago, we asked our readers to identify the top qualities they look for in a job candidate. The number one answer was flexibility. No surprise. Flexibility and adaptability were also the two top qualities identified by Anne Mulcahy, the CEO of Xerox, in the New York Times article that inspired our question.

What did surprise us was the wide variety of thoroughly sensible responses we received. While we hope that the following selection of comments can be helpful to people in thinking about job candidates' qualifications, we can't help but think that any candidate who has all of them should be doing the hiring, not getting hired.

"In my opinion, the two qualities I value most in a potential new teammate are the understanding of the importance of 'we' and the belief that constant improvement is essential to meeting the needs/wants of our customers."

-- Steve Rymer, director of recreation and community service, Morgan Hill, California

"I look for integrity and imagination spiced with practicality. My answer would not change if I were in the private sector."

-- Maytee Aspuro, CIO, Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

1.The ability to communicate clearly and concisely in both verbal and written communication.

2. Shares the same values in regards to personal and work ethics as I do.

-- Donato Nieman, Township Administrator, Montgomery Township, New Jersey

We look for motivational fit. You can teach the technical skills. The second quality is flexibility. We are constantly asking employees to do more with less. For instance, when a position is vacated, it may not be filled. The remaining employees have to determine how to get the work done. Some may grumble and see it as a burden. Some quickly determine what needs to be done and what can be eliminated by "working smarter."

-- Julie Heiss, Grand Region Office Manager, Michigan Department of Transportation

Patient and creative

-- Mike Naugher, personnel director, Etowah County, Alabama

The two qualities I find most useful in job candidates are flexibility and professional maturity. Flexibility allows the individual to respond to opportunities and threats that arise. Professional maturity, on the other hand, helps to ground the individuals decision-making so s/he can enjoy greater autonomy in conducting the work.

-- Mary M. McMahan, Executive Director, Union County Counseling Services, Inc., Anna, Illinois

1. Performance measure-driven

2. The ability to influence others

-- Lucy Gee, director, Division of Medical Quality Assurance, Florida Department of Health

The primary quality I look for when hiring is a good attitude. My thought is that you can teach skills, but you can't teach attitude. If I have equal candidates I would select the one who "plays well with others" every time.

-- Linda Olson, NW Region Purchasing Manager, Washington State Department of Transportation

(1) Integrity

(2) Moderated optimism

-- Bob Parker, assistant director of transportation, Mendocino County, California

Resilience and Savvy

-- Jeff Tryens, former director of the Oregon Progress Board and now a consultant, working in Australia

For new employees in a Budget Office it is critical that he/she understand the budget is a woven piece of fabric. There is no such thing as a single strand of thread.

-- Don Cowan, retired budget director, Georgia Department of Labor

(1) Desire to learn -- I want people who want to know more. I want people who want to learn, because it is important to them not because someone is leaning on them to know more. People who want to know more ask questions, wonder why we do or don't do things, and stretch the boundaries of their jobs. I'm probably cheating and adding additional traits, but I'll argue that they are corollary benefits of finding people that want to learn. Desire to learn is more important to me than ability to learn though both are nice. I would rather have someone burning to learn than someone with superior intelligence, but lacking desire.

(2) Desire to make sense of things - I want people who want to figure out what information means and what you should do with it. It is easy to find people who can put together a spreadsheet, restate data, tell you about a problem. It is hard to find people who can tell you what the spreadsheet means, what the data tells you, or recommend solutions to problems.

-- Ted Zaleski, director, Department of Management and Budget, Carroll County, Maryland

A trait that is highly sought after in public employment is the trait of stewardship. Merriam-Webster defines this as follows: "The conducting, supervising, or managing of something ; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care." You may want to mention this in your report. Stewardship is a quality that defines the highest levels of government service. If we can find employees that understand their obligation to carefully and responsibly perform their functions as stewards of public funds we have found the best.

-- Stephen R. Miller, Director of Human Resources, Jefferson County, New York

Two qualities beyond competence: Nice & Fun

-- Charles Murphy, Director/health officer, Riley County-Manhattan (Kansas) Health Department